For more than 20 years, the UCLA Film & Television Archive has curated an annual festival in honor of Iranian cinema. It opens on Friday, Feb. 4, at the Billy Wilder Theater with "Pay Back," The Daily Bruin student newspaper reports.
By Mette-Marie Kongsved for The Daily Bruin
Just out of jail, four women embark on a crusade to avenge the crimes patriarchy has inflicted upon their lives. They also plan to make a few bucks on the road to emancipation, so they pose as prostitutes in order to kidnap an assortment of womanizers.
What might sound like the plot of the next Ridley Scott or Steven Soderbergh movie is actually the premise for feminist Iranian filmmaker Tahmineh Milani’s most recent movie ”Pay Back,” which on Friday, Feb. 4, will kick off the 21st ”UCLA Celebration of Iranian Cinema” at the Billy Wilder Theater.
For more than 20 years, the UCLA Film & Television Archive has curated an annual film festival in honor of Iranian cinema.
Jan-Christopher Horak, the director of the UCLA Film & TV Archive, said he believes the program’s success is partly due to the fact that Los Angeles, and Westwood in particular, is home to the largest Iranian population outside Iran.
“Over the years we have received immense support from the local Iranian community, both in terms of encouragement and anecdotal praise but also in terms of actual funding,” Horak said.
However, he stressed that the festival is also of interest to people outside of the local Iranian community.
“A lot of the films you cannot even see in Iran, because they have been banned, but they truly constitute a fascinating window into a country whose culture a lot of people outside the Iranian community might not know a lot about,” Horak said.
After the revolution in 1979, the new conservative government in Iran banned most movies that depicted a lifestyle involving romantic relations, alcohol, scantily clad women or any other behavior that was considered to reflect poorly on Iran.
Director and renowned Iranian poet Granaz Moussavi addresses the problems with government control of the arts in her first feature film, “My Tehran For Sale,” which will be shown on Feb. 18. It is the story of a young actress, Marzieh, and her struggle against the authorities’ censorship, which is smothering her artistic work.
According to Milani, making movies allows her to establish a relationship with a wide variety of people and thereby convey important messages about social issues to a wider audience.
“The social content of these type of films will help people to think and talk about it with each other. This could bring positive changes in people’s thoughts,” Milani said.
This year, for the first time, the archive will also showcase rare historical movies from the 1920s and 1930s. This part of the program will be curated by Hamid Naficy, who started the festival back in 1990.
At the time, Naficy was finishing his doctorate in critical studies of film and television at UCLA, and he felt a need to provide a platform for critically acclaimed Iranian movies to be showcased.
“There was a vacuum there that needed to be filled, and there was a need to ameliorate the image of Iranians as a hostile, intolerant and fanatical people,” Naficy said.
One of the films Naficy is responsible for bringing to the festival this year is a 1925 documentary about the hard life of Bakhtiari herdsmen, “Grass: A Nation’s Battle for Life,” made by filmmakers Merian Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack. Cooper and Schoedsack later became famous for the original “King Kong” film.
The festival will also feature the very first Iranian silent picture, “Mr. Haji: The Movie Actor,” which will be shown on Feb. 6 accompanied by a pianist.
Third-year neuroscience student Donya Hosseinian, who attended the last festival, said she will be returning this year.
“I thought the festival was great last year. I am of Persian heritage myself, and the benefit of an event such as this is that it brings all kinds of different people together, which means a lot in Persian culture,” Hosseinian said.
She explained that the unifying social aspect makes the festival more than just an ordinary cinematic experience.
“The festival does bring people together because it seems like it’s a gathering of like-minded people,” Hosseinian said. “By being together in one location, it also helps Persians relive the experience of being together in one place, like they used to be back home.”